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An Author for Catholic Teens

In a world filled with so many complex media images confronting our families, it’s a simple pleasure as a parent to be able to share a book with your teen. The trick is finding the right book and getting the teen to agree to read it.
by Lisa M. Hendey | Source:
Interview with Regina Doman

In a world filled with so many complex media images confronting our families, it’s a simple pleasure as a parent to be able to share a book with your teen. The trick is finding the right book and getting the teen to agree to read it. Author Regina Doman has made this trick a little less challenging by writing a series of books that are both engaging and appropriate for teen (and “grown-up”) readers. The title of Doman’s latest installment, Black as Night: A Fairy Tale Retold (Bethlehem Books, July 2004, paperback, 430 pages), may sound a bit dark on the surface, but the story abounds with a light and faith that transcend the classic fairy tale it is based on. I had the opportunity to share this book with my thirteen-year-old son, who joins me in highly recommending it to other families.

Regina Doman, who has also authored The Shadow of the Bear, is a busy mother of five. She recently took time to share the following interview and information about Black as Night.

LH: I’m pleased to share the following Book Spotlight interview with Regina Doman, author of Black as Night: A Fairy Tale Retold. Regina, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?

RD: Well, for starters I’m the oldest of ten kids, and I’m married to a wonderful man, Andrew, who’s the oldest of eleven. Big families sort of run in our genes. We have five children now, and from our point of view, we’re only halfway done. (All depending on God’s continued blessings of new life, of course.) My husband co-owns and runs a web development company. He works from home, and we homeschool, so our life really revolves around the home! We have five kids, eight cats (free kittens! Please take!), one betta fish, and one chicken. God’s blessed us with a good house, good friends, and a great parish in Front Royal, Virginia. Before I married, I worked as an assistant editor for Catholics United for the Faith, and for a while I was a freelance writer for various Catholic publications. Now I just write novels and manage projects. I have this dizzying array of projects — among them a radio drama, a comic book proposal, and a Catholic book series. I’m also about to get a children’s book published — Catholic artist and good friend Ben Hatke did the illustrations. It’s called Angel in the Waters, and it’s a sweet book about a baby in the womb and his guardian angel. Sophia Institute Press is publishing it this Christmas.

LH: First off I have to ask, how does a mom of five find time to write a book like this?

RD: That’s a good question! I want to assure your readers that I’m no SuperMom, so the time spent on writing books doesn’t come without sacrificing other things. I fail a lot, and I don’t finish many things I’ve started. I could be a much better homeschooler — in fact, I don’t think I’m a very good one. And when the current novel is approaching to the final draft, my house is approaching Armageddon. Fortunately, I have patient children and an even more patient husband who loves my books and enjoys reading them. Plus, I’m writing adventure novels, not philosophical treatises. They’re fun to work on at the end of a long day. In fact, more than one book has gotten finished because my husband has come by my computer in the evening and said, “Okay, where’s the next chapter? I want to find out what happens next.” Writing books is, in a way, sort of like our television. Which brings me to another point — we don’t have a television. I don’t think I could watch TV and write novels. I just simply don’t have the time. When I’m really thick into writing, I can’t even watch DVDs or answer email or surf the Web either. Plus, more than anything, I just love it. It’s something I’m willing to make time for, because I love it.

LH: The plot of Black as Night sounds oddly reminiscent…can you tell our readers a little bit about the story and its characters?

RD: As you insightfully noticed, the story of Black as Night is based on the quite familiar fairy tale, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” My first book, The Shadow of the Bear, was also based on a fairy tale, the less-known story of “Snow White and Rose Red.” What I did in both books was to take a traditional fairy tale, and set it in modern times, and retell the story, without any more magic or fantasy elements other than Grace and coincidence. I decided to write the books this way for several reasons. One was G. K. Chesterton’s observations that most modern novels (read: especially ones for teens that I had read growing up) were about odd people in a boring world. Whereas he said, fairy tales are about ordinary people in an extraordinary universe. I decided to tell a story about two ordinary girls in New York City who view the world, and everything that happens to them, from the viewpoint that it’s extraordinary — like a character in one of G. K. Chesterton’s romances (such as The Man who was Thursday, Manalive, The Poet and the Lunatics). So I created Blanche and Rose, two sisters with two unusual outlooks on life. Rose is everyone’s favorite — she’s bold and adventurous and loves beauty and poetry, and she sees a deeper archetypal meaning in everything. Blanche is quieter, more contemplative — and more pessimistic. She, too, has a semi-mystical view of life, but she sees the darker side of things, and approaches situations with caution, if not fear.

The first book begins with the coincidence of these two ordinary girls with extraordinary outlooks meeting a young man who’s on a most unusual mission, one that’s secret, and a bit threatening. The Shadow of the Bear is the story of how the two girls, like the sisters in the fairy tale, discover his secret and defeat the enchantment that ensnares him.

Black as Night continues the story. This particular book is Blanche’s book, so, like her viewpoint, it’s a bit dark, more serious than my first one. It follows the same storyline as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which I assume your readers are familiar with, but of course there are some differences. Such as, instead of seven dwarfs, there are seven friars who work with the inner-city poor. And there are additional characters, including Rose and her mother, from the first book. But there’s still a magic mirror, a sleeping potion, and a wicked queen.

LH: I have to tell you that my thirteen-year-old son and I both loved this book! Who is your intended audience for the book?

RD: I love hearing that! It’s funny, because we discovered a similar thing with the first book: although I wrote the book for teen girls, it really struck a chord with teen guys who picked it up. I think it’s because there are two pretty strong teenage male characters in the first book.

(I should mention that the first book had two (unofficial) strong male editors — my husband and his brother — who helped me work out the big climax at the end. Their influence shaped the first book. And of course my husband gave a lot of input into the second book as well.)

So I decided to make this second book “for the guys.” Black as Night is written from three viewpoints, two of them male. One viewpoint character is Brother Leon, one of the friars, a scrappy, ready-for-anything Jamaican/Hispanic Franciscan novice. He takes a real interest in Blanche, and helps her to face the evil that’s threatening to overwhelm her, physically and psychologically. All the friars are great characters. They’re really “manly” men, and I based them on Franciscans I knew in New York City.

So my intended audience for this book is really both guy and girl teens. I wasn’t sure if I could write for guys when I wrote my first novel — now, I have a bit more confidence, so I’m shooting for that.

It’s funny, because this male/female audience dynamic can make for problems. In the first book, there’s a scene where the girls go thrift store shopping. I’ve had so many female readers comment to me how much they loved that scene. I’ve also noticed that any male reader who didn’t finish my first book put it down when they came to that scene. (Those males who did finish the book usually skipped over it.)

On the other side of the gender divide, the second book has a fight scene, and one of my (women) editors at Bethlehem Books said at one point, “Why do they have to fight? And why do you have to go into such detail about who hit who when? I don’t understand why you included this scene.” I had to explain that this scene was the “guy” equivalent of the shopping scene.

LH: Themes of faith, love and service abound in Black as Night. How does your faith-life impact upon your writing?

RD: Seriously, it’s everything. I see my writing as my personal vocation, my call from God. It’s something between Him and myself, my having to fulfill what He gives me. I was fortunate to have two strong Catholic parents who always put their faith first, and that’s how I was raised. I take my writing pretty seriously — I’m one of those people who could never say, “Oh, it’s only a story.” I have a sense of responsibility about what I write. Please understand that I don’t use my stories to preach — but yet, in another sense, I do. I feel strongly about things, and I write what I feel strongly about. My faith is one of those things.

LH: I was so impressed by the level of detail and accuracy in Black as Night. How did you go about researching and preparing to write this book?

RD: This is really the first book that I bothered to do research on. My first book I pretty much fudged. But Black as Night was a hard book to write — the story went through at least fourteen separate versions, if not actual drafts, before the book was finished. Along the way, I started to feel the need to get more specific and to visualize things clearly. As you can see from the three pages of acknowledgments, I had a lot of help. Just so you know — the story always came first. I didn’t research first and then write. I wrote, and then researched as I needed to, to make sure that things were accurate, and sometimes to help me write the scene more clearly.

For example, it’s difficult to write a court scene when you have no idea what the laws about drug possession are, and I ran into that problem pretty quickly. So I started making phone calls when I finished what was supposed to be the final draft of the book (but was actually version three or four). In the course of writing, I ended up calling the Drug Enforcement Agency, JFK airport, the NYC morgue, and lots of other places. I discovered it’s fun to do this sort of research, because about every fourth person I would talk to would be thrilled with the idea of helping an author, and would be happy to tell me all sorts of details. I sent complimentary copies to many of these sorts of people who I talked to. One man at the Metro North Customer Service was delighted with my questions, and I learned so much about New York subway tunnels. He actually helped me pinpoint the exact location of some of the train sequences — that was fun.

Also, going back to the “fight scene” (there are actually three fight scenes in this book), my friend and sometimes-business-partner Jason Manak, who knows judo, helped me choreograph them, which was so valuable that I’ve gotten advice on fighting for every book I’ve written since then. I think I can now write a pretty believable fight scene, even though I still don’t know how to actually do any real fighting myself.

Having said all this, I’m sure that there are still some errors in the book regarding details — but that reflects my mostly non-meticulous personality, and not the experts I consulted.

LH: Bear, Blanche, Rose and Fish all appear in your previous book The Shadow of the Bear as well. Do you have future plans for these characters?

RD: Yes. Everyone’s been asking me, “But what about Rose?” She only has a cameo appearance in this book, and I know how much readers love her. Well, the good news is that I have a third book that’s all about Rose. It’s the final volume in the “Snow White and Rose Red” trilogy, which is in a completed draft, and though I say so myself, it’s a really, really good book. It’s a very fun book, as Rose is a very fun character. I can’t say too much about it, because the editing process hasn’t begun on it yet, and in my experience, my books can change substantially in the editing process.

I do have other books I’ve written based on fairy tales that right now are still “in the till” — I don’t yet have a publisher for them. Three of them are completed, and I’m about to start writing a fourth. They feature different characters than these first three books, but they’re still based on the same motif of ordinary young adults in extraordinary circumstances.

LH: Regina, thank you again for taking the time to participate in this interview and for sharing this wonderful story. Are there any closing comments or thoughts you’d like to offer?

RD: I’d like to tell your readers about my next project, which I am actually not writing, but which I’m editing. My experience in publishing for Catholic teens has led me to believe that there’s a crying need for more fiction for this audience. So I’m working with some new young talent to create a series of Catholic teen novels. These books will be shorter than mine, and they will be a running series, like the ubiquitous Sweet Valley High series that was everywhere when I was growing up. I’m not writing the books, but I’m the editor of the series. Unlike Sweet Valley High, we’re hoping that both guys and girls will enjoy these books. And of course, unlike Sweet Valley High, they will feature an authentic Catholic worldview and Catholic characters. And since I’m involved, there’s going to be more than just relationship problems and romance — there will be threads of danger and mystery running through them as well as the usual teen problems.

The stories revolve around a new private high school started by a group of parents. The school begins when the favorite religion teacher at their local Catholic high school is fired. In protest, the parents rally round the fired teacher and pick him to be the principal for a new private Catholic school. So the school starts, barely financially afloat, with just six kids. This is all background.

Book One begins when a nominally Catholic girl gets yanked out of the nearby public high school by her mom and thrust into this group of serious Catholics. Things take off from there, with mishaps, pranks, rivalries, squabbling amongst the serious Catholics (of course) and…something more sinister.

We still haven’t picked a name for the series but our website for the project is CatholicTeenNovels.com. And I hope your thirteen-year-old son will enjoy them, too.

Thanks again for the opportunity and happy reading!

Lisa M. Hendey is webmaster of CatholicMom.com, which celebrates Catholic motherhood and Catholic culture. She is a mother of two sons and an avid reader of Catholic fiction and non-fiction.

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